Sunday, December 18, 2011

It's Not Just Peruvian Men After All

December 18, 2011 – It’s Not Just Peruvian Men After All

Every year my friend Kirk and I go to a show, a sporting event or a concert when I come to visit the Dallas area for the holidays. This year we go to see the Dallas Theater production of A Christmas Carol.
But first we go to dinner.

“Don’t worry, I know the vegetarian drill by now…and most of the world has caught on to you vege-peeps,” Kirk messages me a few days before along with our evening’s schedule.
He takes me to Palms Restaurant which has been around since 1926. “With 28 locations, including one in London and one in Mexico City, Palm is still owned by the same families that started the original Palm in New York City. They treat each guest as if they are part of the family. It’s Old World hospitality at its finest.” (

The valet recognizes Kirk and calls him, “Friend,” and “Buddy,” and “Amigo."
Jose and Kirk
Our waiter, Jose, has apparently been working for Palms since they opened in 1926… well, for the last 27 years at any rate. He’s old and friendly and had moved from New York to help start the Houston and the Dallas Palm Restaurant branches way back in the day. Then he decided to stay in Dallas. He thought it’d be a good place to raise his sons and doesn’t appear to think he ever went wrong with that decision. He seems to truly like his job. I want to ask him if he really does. I’ve been so caught up in anti-corporationism that I’ve lost sight of what company loyalty looks like. Watching Jose, seeing the 27 Years lettering embroidered on his right shirtsleeve, I feel like I’ve stepped back into another era. One where companies treat their employees right and where the employees ride for the brand--to use some Cowboy lingo that I learned from reading Louis L’Amour.

The entire wait staff handles us like royalty. It really is Old World hospitality at its finest. This is what it must feel like to be rich, I think. Why don’t we treat each other this way all the time?
I give out smiles to all the people who pass us by; men and women alike. I don’t feel like I have to guard them here the way I do in Peru. But I try not to make my smiles too flirty, just friendly. I get returned smiles, some “How are you tonight?”, and attention to our table from some of the guys who aren’t working our station. Kirk comes here on a semi-regular basis and some of the staff knows him by name, the others by face. Throughout the course of the night they all stop by our table to say hi.
“We’re about to go see A Christmas Carol,” Kirk tells one of the managers.

“Oh, that’s a great one,” he says, “’You’ll shoot your eye out!’ The Red Ryder BB gun.” He laughs.
I laugh too. “That’s A Christmas Story,” I say, feeling some odd need to correct him. “I thought the same thing at first. This is the one with the ghosts and Scrooge.”

“That’s a good one too,” he says. He stays at the edge of our table to chat a moment longer then he pats Kirk on the arm and gets back to work.
Jose glides by, sees that we’re finally ready and takes our orders down. I go for the Arugula and Apple salad, a dish of mushrooms and some Brussels sprouts. Kirk gets a steak and checks to make sure I don’t mind sharing some of my veggies. I don’t.

“I can share,” I say. My mom taught me about sharing.
Not much later our food arrives.

It looks delicious. I stick my fork into my salad and discover the bacon. The menu had not advertised bacon and I curse myself for being naïve and not asking to make sure it was truly a vegetarian salad. Foolish girl. Instead of sending it back, I just pick the bacon out and set it on the side of the plate. This probably means I fail some vegetarian test, but I do it anyway.

Jose walks by to check on us. He sees me picking and leans over the table to see specifically what I’m doing. “What is that?” he asks.

“Bacon,” I say.
“There’s bacon on it?” Kirk asks.

“You want it?”
“Sure. There’s no need for good bacon to go to waste.”

His worries set aside that our meal isn’t ruined by vegetarianism Jose backs off from hovering over me and smiles again.
I decide not to ask what the mushrooms were cooked in or pay attention to the parmesan crumbled over the Brussels sprouts. I sip the house Merlot and feel terribly grown up.

Kirk and I eat our meal and talk about the faces painted on Palms Restaurant walls. People who spend some crazy amount of money eating there and who are members of the Restaurant get their faces put on the wall. We’re seated next to a strange combination of faces including Dean Martin, G.W. Bush, Catherine Carr, Ronald Reagan and Ol’ Blue Eyes. Their stares do nothing to ruin our appetites and we put the food away purposefully.

After Jose has cleared away our empty dishes, he presses dessert menus into our hands and waits for us to decide. But we reject dessert and when the bill is paid and we’re sincerely goodbyed by everyone and wished happy holidays and cheerfully put back into the car by the brotherly valet we head over to Turtle Creek to see a play.

It looks like a full house. We’re up in the balcony and have a nice view of the stage. A couple is in the seats next to us and I assume they’re married.
We cozy in to the chairs and wait for the show to start.

The lights go out and Jacob Marley’s mournful cries fill the auditorium.
My neighbor fidgets and I feel his leg against mine. This is America where we’re space sensitive and personal bubble paranoid. So I surreptitiously move my leg away. And then again. And again. The seats are close and the leg room negligible so I don’t necessarily take this as a bodily contact come on. Beside, I’m not feeling especially alluring, even though I know beauty is in the eye of the beholder and some beholders have really non-discriminating eyes.

The Ghost of Christmas Past scares Ebenezer into regret and the lights turn on for the Intermission. Kirk gets up to go walk around and check out the concession stand and I decide to sit it out.
My neighbor turns toward me. He’s got a ring on his ring finger, but his blonde and beautifully made-up companion does not. She’s much prettier than I am and better dressed. She checks her phone and waves him off to talk to me. I wonder if they’re just friend out for an outing like Kirk and I. Is he just wearing any old ring or is it a wedding ring? I want the details. I always want the details.

“It’s a good production,” he tells me.
“The special effects are great,” I agree. The appearance of Jacob Marley early in the play was made eerie, ghostly and frightening by light strobing and smoke. I was scared. I mean, I would have been scared if I were a kid or something.
“I come every couple years to see this one,” he says. “Are you from Dallas?”

“Garland,” I say.

“Me too,” he exclaims. “What part of Garland?”
“South Garland.”

“You know Wynn Joyce and Broadway?”
These are streets and I do know them. “Yeah sure.”

“That’s where I live. Where abouts are you?”
“I grew up off of Glenbrook and Centerville,” I say. “But I currently live in Peru.”

He asks me what I do. And I tell him I’m a writer which then leads into how I managed to get to Peru and what made me choose that place of all places. He’s impressed by the fact that I moved out of the country.
“It takes a lot to do that,” he says. “Most people get too scared to make a change.”

“It’s hard to leave what you know. What’s familiar,” I agree.
“How old are you?” he asks.

Oh lord. Even here. This must just be a normal question. And all this time I’d ragged on the Peruvian males for asking me this. This man isn’t so different. He’s hitting those same age-old questions by direct questioning and a little observation:
“Where are you from?”

“What is your name?”
“Are you alone?”

“How old are you?”
It’s the same pattern. I’ve been here before.

“Thirty-three,” I say.
He doesn’t tell me I look younger than that and I suddenly feel old. I wonder if he just skipped the “Are you alone?” question because he saw my ringless fingers and/or saw me come in with Kirk.

“You have Facebook?” he asks.

“We should exchange information. It’s always good to have more friends--especially interesting ones.”
I hand over a slip of paper and have him write his information down.  After all we’ve sat leg to leg for a full first half of a play. “I put my email,” he says. “Can you read it?”

I can.
Kirk returns, my new buddy Tim turns back to his date, and shortly thereafter the Ghosts of Christmas Present and of Christmases Yet to Come scare us all into thoughtfulness, we cheer  with Bob Cratchit and Scrooge’s nephew over Ebenezer’s change of heart and move our lips to say, “God Bless us, everyone!” in time with Tiny Tim.

As I put my jacket on and swing my bag back over my shoulder, I want to ask neighbor Tim if he’s married, if the blonde lady is just his friend, and what exactly he expects by giving out his email. Is this just normal human to human interaction or is this a North American come on that feels remarkably similar to a South American one?
I can’t answer my own question. And if I ask him, then that’ll be taken (possibly) as a return of interest (if he’s asking his questions for reasons of interest in me) and I don’t really want to go there.

So instead, I breathe out a very small apology to all the Latino men I’ve judged so harshly. Because, boys, it ain’t just y’all after all.

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